On Monday, 14 February, Ingrīda Circene (Unity), Chairperson of the Human Rights and Public Affairs Committee of the Saeima, MPs Lolita Čigāne (Unity) and Rita Strode (For a Good Latvia) met with Knut Vollebaek, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, to discuss the progress in integration of society.
Participants of the meeting devoted particular attention to the subjects of naturalisation and learning the state language; they also expressed support for continuing measures aimed at integration. Both parties agreed that applying for citizenship should be voluntary and that it is necessary to establish closer cooperation with people who want to become Latvian citizens.
Knut Vollebaek praised the progress that has been made in the field of integration, including the fact that despite the economic crisis 55,506 persons so far have had the opportunity to learn the state language for free. It is planned that this year an additional 3,583 persons will do so. He also commended the allocation of so-called scholarships to the unemployed who are learning the state language. The Commissioner pointed out that Latvia should continue supporting those people who want to learn the state language, and he encouraged Latvia to seek innovative methods of stimulating naturalisation of non-citizens.
Circene reported that during the past years the naturalisation process has been significantly simplified; that, in turn, has elicited a favourable response from society. The Chairperson also highlighted that according to sociological surveys conducted during past two years, a large part of non-citizen respondents are planning to acquire citizenship, and more than 85% of non-citizens are undergoing the naturalisation process because they want their children to be citizens. Among other motivating factors for acquiring citizenship, the respondents also mentioned the opportunity to become citizens of the EU.
The Chairperson also indicated that currently Cabinet of Ministers regulations are being amended in order to allow parents, upon receiving their child’s birth certificate, to file an application for granting citizenship to the child; that would facilitate the procedure for granting citizenship to children.
During the meeting, the issue of the right of non-citizens to participate in municipal elections was also addressed. In this regard Circene emphasised that the right to vote is an integral part of citizenship, and it serves as an additional incentive for non-citizens to undergo naturalisation. The Chairperson referred to the experience of Estonia, where the rate of people applying for naturalisation decreased after non-citizens were allowed to participate in elections. “Our policy is oriented towards increasing the desire of members of our society to become citizens,” said the Chairperson. Vollebaek indicated that public discussions on this subject should be continued.
With regard to the relation between acquiring an education and learning the state language, both parties agreed that the integration of society facilitates its competitiveness in the labour market.
Saeima Press Service